American Hebrew Academy, international boarding school in Greensboro, closes abruptly

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The American Hebrew Academy, an international Jewish boarding school located in Greensboro, has closed.

A message on the school’s website states simply: “The American Hebrew Academy is closed.” The page referred questions to Glenn Drew, the school’s CEO and general counsel, but an automated message for phone number listed for Drew indicates the number is not in service. An email to the school was not immediately returned.

A cache for the school website described American Hebrew Academy as “the only international Jewish college prep boarding school in the world with students from 31 states and 35 countries.” The school’s 100-acre campus is located off Hobbs Road in northwest Greensboro. The property was purchased from Jefferson-Pilot Life Insurance Co. for $8.3 million in 1998, according to Guilford County property records.

In a 2002 report for Forbes magazine, Edward Cone — a journalist based in Greensboro — wrote that “everything about the AHA has been conceived on a grand scale, in keeping with [benefactor Maurice (Chico)] Sabbah’s vision of a boarding school that could compete almost overnight with the elite New England prep schools.” The school, which opened in September 2001, included “buildings constructed of imported Jerusalem stone [that were] heated and cooled by a massive network of geothermal wells,” “electronic whiteboards in every classroom,” and a 25-yard long swimming pool.

The school declared as its mission “to educate the best and brightest Jewish teenagers from around the world in preparation for college and future positions in leadership in the Jewish community.”

Chico Sabbah built his fortune in the insurance industry, primarily in aviation by the 1990s, according to Cone’s report. But the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack struck a blow against Sabbah’s business.

A report in The Forward indicates that Drew and Leeor Sabbah, the chairman of the school’s board, notified faculty and staff of the closure in an email on Tuesday morning.

Drew and Leeor Sabbah said the closure is taking place because of “insufficient growth in enrollment and our inability to secure adequate funding to cover future school expenses.

“Declining interest in and philanthropic support for the Academy specifically and Jewish education generally, has made it impossible to sustain the Academy’s operations,” the email said. “Unfortunately, this is true for many Jewish schools worldwide. These circumstances can no longer be overcome. It is unfortunate that we must now share this news with you. We are truly sorry. The Academy simply lacks the financial resources to continue as a viable concern given rising school costs and low enrollment growth.”

Tax returns for the school showed that contributions declined from $5.2 million in 2013 to $404,987 in 2016. Over the same period, Drew’s total compensation increased from $402,549 to $538,362. Alex Troy, the school’s headmaster, received a salary of $165,000.